THEIR next and second attempt thereat was more deliberately made, though it was begun on the morning following the singular child's arrival at their home.
Him they found to be in the habit of sitting silent, his quaint and weird face set, and his eyes resting on things they did not see in the substantial world.
"His face is like the tragic mask of Melpomene," said Sue. "What is your name, dear? Did you tell us?"
"Little Father Time is what they always called me. It is a nickname; because I look so aged, they say."
"And you talk so, too," said Sue tenderly. "It is strange, Jude, that these preternaturally old boys almost always come from new countries. But what were you christened?"
"I never was."
"Why was that?"
"Because, if I died in damnation, 'twould save the expense of a Christian funeral."
"Oh--your name is not Jude, then?" said his father with some disappointment.
The boy shook his head. "Never heerd on it."
"Of course not," said Sue quickly; "since she was hating you all the time!"
"We'll have him christened," said Jude; and privately to Sue: "The day we are married." Yet the advent of the child disturbed him.
Their position lent them shyness, and having an impression that a marriage at a superintendent registrar's office was more private than an ecclesiastical one, they decided to avoid a church this time. Both Sue and Jude together went to the office of the district to give notice: they had become such companions that they could hardly do anything of importance except in each other's company.
Jude Fawley signed the form of notice, Sue looking over his shoulder and watching his hand as it traced the words. As she read the four-square undertaking, never before seen by her, into which her own and Jude's names were inserted, and by which that very volatile essence, their love for each other, was supposed to be made permanent, her face seemed to grow painfully apprehensive. "Names and Surnames of the Parties"--(they were to be parties now, not lovers, she thought). "Condition"--(a horrid idea)--"Rank or Occupation"--"Age"--"Dwelling at"--"Length of Residence"--"Church or Building in which the Marriage is to be solemnized"-- "District and County in which the Parties respectively dwell."
"It spoils the sentiment, doesn't it!" she said on their way home. "It seems making a more sordid business of it even than signing the contract in a vestry. There is a little poetry in a church. But we'll try to get through with it, dearest, now."
"We will. 'For what man is he that hath betrothed a wife and hath not taken her? Let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.' So said the Jewish law-giver."
"How you know the Scriptures, Jude! You really ought to have been a parson. I can only quote profane writers!"
During the interval before the issuing of the certificate Sue, in her housekeeping errands, sometimes walked past the office, and furtively glancing in saw affixed to the wall the notice of the purposed clinch to their union. She could not bear its aspect. Coming after her previous experience of matrimony, all the romance of their attachment seemed to be starved away by placing her present case in the same category. She was usually leading little Father Time by the hand, and fancied that people thought him hers, and regarded the intended ceremony as the patching up of an old error.
Meanwhile Jude decided to link his present with his past in some slight degree by inviting to the wedding the only person remaining on earth who was associated with his early life at Marygreen--the aged widow Mrs. Edlin, who had been his great-aunt's friend and nurse in her last illness. He hardly expected that she would come; but she did, bringing singular presents, in the form of apples, jam, brass snuffers, an ancient pewter dish, a warming-pan, and an enormous bag of goose feathers towards a bed. She was allotted the spare room in Jude's house, whither she retired early, and where they could hear her through the ceiling below, honestly saying the Lord's Prayer in a loud voice, as the Rubric directed.
As, however, she could not sleep, and discovered that Sue and Jude were still sitting up--it being in fact only ten o'clock-- she dressed herself again and came down, and they all sat by the fire till a late hour--Father Time included; though, as he never spoke, they were hardly conscious of him.
"Well, I bain't set against marrying as your great-aunt was," said the widow. "And I hope 'twill be a jocund wedding for ye in all respects this time. Nobody can hope it more, knowing what I do of your families, which is more, I suppose, than anybody else now living. For they have been unlucky that way, God knows."
Sue breathed uneasily.
"They was always good-hearted people, too--wouldn't kill a fly if they knowed it," continued the wedding guest. "But things happened to thwart 'em, and if everything wasn't vitty they were upset. No doubt that's how he that the tale is told of came to do what 'a did--if he WERE one of your family."
"What was that?" said Jude.
"Well--that tale, ye know; he that was gibbeted just on the brow of the hill by the Brown House--not far from the milestone between Marygreen and Alfredston, where the other road branches off. But Lord, 'twas in my grandfather's time; and it medn' have been one of your folk at all."
"I know where the gibbet is said to have stood, very well," murmured Jude. "But I never heard of this. What--did this man--my ancestor and Sue's-- kill his wife?"
"'Twer not that exactly. She ran away from him, with their child, to her friends; and while she was there the child died. He wanted the body, to bury it where his people lay, but she wouldn't give it up. Her husband then came in the night with a cart, and broke into the house to steal the coffin away; but he was catched, and being obstinate, wouldn't tell what he broke in for. They brought it in burglary, and that's why he was hanged and gibbeted on Brown House Hill. His wife went mad after he was dead. But it medn't be true that he belonged to ye more than to me."
A small slow voice rose from the shade of the fireside, as if out of the earth: "If I was you, Mother, I wouldn't marry Father!" It came from little Time, and they started, for they had forgotten him.
"Oh, it is only a tale," said Sue cheeringly.
After this exhilarating tradition from the widow on the eve of the solemnization they rose, and, wishing their guest good-night, retired.
The next morning Sue, whose nervousness intensified with the hours, took Jude privately into the sitting-room before starting. "Jude, I want you to kiss me, as a lover, incorporeally," she said, tremulously nestling up to him, with damp lashes. "It won't be ever like this any more, will it! I wish we hadn't begun the business. But I suppose we must go on. How horrid that story was last night! It spoilt my thoughts of to-day. It makes me feel as if a tragic doom overhung our family, as it did the house of Atreus."
"Or the house of Jeroboam," said the quondam theologian.
"Yes. And it seems awful temerity in us two to go marrying! I am going to vow to you in the same words I vowed in to my other husband, and you to me in the same as you used to your other wife; regardless of the deterrent lesson we were taught by those experiments!"
"If you are uneasy I am made unhappy," said he. "I had hoped you would feel quite joyful. But if you don't, you don't. It is no use pretending. It is a dismal business to you, and that makes it so to me!"
"It is unpleasantly like that other morning--that's all," she murmured. "Let us go on now."
They started arm in arm for the office aforesaid, no witness accompanying them except the Widow Edlin. The day was chilly and dull, and a clammy fog blew through the town from "Royal-tower'd Thame." On the steps of the office there were the muddy foot-marks of people who had entered, and in the entry were damp umbrellas Within the office several persons were gathered, and our couple perceived that a marriage between a soldier and a young woman was just in progress. Sue, Jude, and the widow stood in the background while this was going on, Sue reading the notices of marriage on the wall. The room was a dreary place to two of their temperament, though to its usual frequenters it doubtless seemed ordinary enough. Law-books in musty calf covered one wall, and elsewhere were post-office directories, and other books of reference. Papers in packets tied with red tape were pigeon-holed around, and some iron safes filled a recess, while the bare wood floor was, like the door-step, stained by previous visitors.
The soldier was sullen and reluctant: the bride sad and timid; she was soon, obviously, to become a mother, and she had a black eye. Their little business was soon done, and the twain and their friends straggled out, one of the witnesses saying casually to Jude and Sue in passing, as if he had known them before: "See the couple just come in? Ha, ha! That fellow is just out of gaol this morning. She met him at the gaol gates, and brought him straight here. She's paying for everything."
Sue turned her head and saw an ill-favoured man, closely cropped, with a broad-faced, pock-marked woman on his arm, ruddy with liquor and the satisfaction of being on the brink of a gratified desire. They jocosely saluted the outgoing couple, and went forward in front of Jude and Sue, whose diffidence was increasing. The latter drew back and turned to her lover, her mouth shaping itself like that of a child about to give way to grief:
"Jude--I don't like it here! I wish we hadn't come! The place gives me the horrors: it seems so unnatural as the climax of our love! I wish it had been at church, if it had to be at all. It is not so vulgar there!"
"Dear little girl," said Jude. "How troubled and pale you look!"
"It must be performed here now, I suppose?"
"No--perhaps not necessarily."
He spoke to the clerk, and came back. "No--we need not marry here or anywhere, unless we like, even now," he said. "We can be married in a church, if not with the same certificate with another he'll give us, I think. Anyhow, let us go out till you are calmer, dear, and I too, and talk it over."
They went out stealthily and guiltily, as if they had committed a misdemeanour, closing the door without noise, and telling the widow, who had remained in the entry, to go home and await them; that they would call in any casual passers as witnesses, if necessary. When in the street they turned into an unfrequented side alley where they walked up and down as they had done long ago in the market-house at Melchester.
"Now, darling, what shall we do? We are making a mess of it, it strikes me. Still, ANYTHING that pleases you will please me."
"But Jude, dearest, I am worrying you! You wanted it to be there, didn't you?"
"Well, to tell the truth, when I got inside I felt as if I didn't care much about it. The place depressed me almost as much as it did you-- it was ugly. And then I thought of what you had said this morning as to whether we ought."
They walked on vaguely, till she paused, and her little voice began anew: "It seems so weak, too, to vacillate like this! And yet how much better than to act rashly a second time.... How terrible that scene was to me! The expression in that flabby woman's face, leading her on to give herself to that gaol-bird, not for a few hours, as she would, but for a lifetime, as she must. And the other poor soul--to escape a nominal shame which was owing to the weakness of her character, degrading herself to the real shame of bondage to a tyrant who scorned her--a man whom to avoid for ever was her only chance of salvation.... This is our parish church, isn't it? This is where it would have to be, if we did it in the usual way? A service or something seems to be going on."
Jude went up and looked in at the door. "Why--it is a wedding here too," he said. "Everybody seems to be on our tack to-day."
Sue said she supposed it was because Lent was just over, when there was always a crowd of marriages. "Let us listen," she said, "and find how it feels to us when performed in a church."
They stepped in, and entered a back seat, and watched the proceedings at the altar. The contracting couple appeared to belong to the well-to-do middle class, and the wedding altogether was of ordinary prettiness and interest. They could see the flowers tremble in the bride's hand, even at that distance, and could hear her mechanical murmur of words whose meaning her brain seemed to gather not at all under the pressure of her self-consciousness. Sue and Jude listened, and severally saw themselves in time past going through the same form of self-committal.
"It is not the same to her, poor thing, as it would be to me doing it over again with my present knowledge," Sue whispered. "You see, they are fresh to it, and take the proceedings as a matter of course. But having been awakened to its awful solemnity as we have, or at least as I have, by experience, and to my own too squeamish feelings perhaps sometimes, it really does seem immoral in me to go and undertake the same thing again with open eyes. Coming in here and seeing this has frightened me from a church wedding as much as the other did from a registry one.... We are a weak, tremulous pair, Jude, and what others may feel confident in I feel doubts of-- my being proof against the sordid conditions of a business contract again!"
Then they tried to laugh, and went on debating in whispers the object-lesson before them. And Jude said he also thought they were both too thin-skinned-- that they ought never to have been born--much less have come together for the most preposterous of all joint ventures for THEM--matrimony.
His betrothed shuddered; and asked him earnestly if he indeed felt that they ought not to go in cold blood and sign that life-undertaking again?" It is awful if you think we have found ourselves not strong enough for it, and knowing this, are proposing to perjure ourselves," she said.
"I fancy I do think it--since you ask me," said Jude. "Remember I'll do it if you wish, own darling." While she hesitated he went on to confess that, though he thought they ought to be able to do it, he felt checked by the dread of incompetency just as she did-- from their peculiarities, perhaps, because they were unlike other people. "We are horribly sensitive; that's really what's the matter with us, Sue!" he declared.
"I fancy more are like us than we think!"
"Well, I don't know. The intention of the contract is good, and right for many, no doubt; but in our case it may defeat its own ends because we are the queer sort of people we are-- folk in whom domestic ties of a forced kind snuff out cordiality and spontaneousness."
Sue still held that there was not much queer or exceptional in them: that all were so. "Everybody is getting to feel as we do. We are a little beforehand, that's all. In fifty, a hundred, years the descendants of these two will act and feel worse than we. They will see weltering humanity still more vividly than we do now, as
Shapes like our own selves hideously multiplied,
and will be afraid to reproduce them."
"What a terrible line of poetry! ... though I have felt it myself about my fellow-creatures, at morbid times."
Thus they murmured on, till Sue said more brightly:
"Well--the general question is not our business, and why should we plague ourselves about it? However different our reasons are we come to the same conclusion; that for us particular two, an irrevocable oath is risky. Then, Jude, let us go home without killing our dream! Yes? How good you are, my friend: you give way to all my whims!"
"They accord very much with my own."
He gave her a little kiss behind a pillar while the attention of everybody present was taken up in observing the bridal procession entering the vestry; and then they came outside the building. By the door they waited till two or three carriages, which had gone away for a while, returned, and the new husband and wife came into the open daylight. Sue sighed.
"The flowers in the bride's hand are sadly like the garland which decked the heifers of sacrifice in old times!"
"Still, Sue, it is no worse for the woman than for the man. That's what some women fail to see, and instead of protesting against the conditions they protest against the man, the other victim; just as a woman in a crowd will abuse the man who crushes against her, when he is only the helpless transmitter of the pressure put upon him."
"Yes--some are like that, instead of uniting with the man against the common enemy, coercion." The bride and bridegroom had by this time driven off, and the two moved away with the rest of the idlers. "No--don't let's do it," she continued. "At least just now."
They reached home, and passing the window arm in arm saw the widow looking out at them. "Well," cried their guest when they entered, "I said to myself when I zeed ye coming so loving up to the door, 'They made up their minds at last, then!'"
They briefly hinted that they had not.
"What--and ha'n't ye really done it? Chok' it all, that I should have lived to see a good old saying like 'marry in haste and repent at leisure' spoiled like this by you two! 'Tis time I got back again to Marygreen-- sakes if tidden--if this is what the new notions be leading us to! Nobody thought o' being afeard o' matrimony in my time, nor of much else but a cannon-ball or empty cup-board! Why when I and my poor man were married we thought no more o't than of a game o' dibs!"
"Don't tell the child when he comes in," whispered Sue nervously. "He'll think it has all gone on right, and it will be better that he should not be surprised and puzzled. Of course it is only put off for reconsideration. If we are happy as we are, what does it matter to anybody?"